Project Description

“À la pointe” by Geneviève Moisan, 2014, used with permission of the artist.

Weaving Binaries into Conversations: An Interview with Geneviève Moisan

By Eileen Mary Holowka | March 6th 2017

“What I like about making is the power it gives you,” Milieux member Geneviève Moisan tells me during our interview. For Moisan, “making” involves many things: quilting, weaving, embroidering, and even photography or performance.

“What I like about making is the power it gives you,” Milieux member Geneviève Moisan tells me during our interview. For Moisan, “making” involves many things: quilting, weaving, embroidering, and even photography or performance.

Although she has been involved with textiles since she was young, Moisan’s love of weaving truly developed when she moved to the city of Saint-Étienne in France, where she lived just blocks away from the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie. Within the museum, she discovered a room of antique looms, one of which she tells me “just feels like it belongs to [her].”

Now, she works at Milieux’s Textiles and Materiality Cluster as one of the guardians of their large and beautiful Jacquard loom, as well as a research assistant for Barbara Layne who works with wearable technology. Moisan often works with the Jacquard loom in her own creative projects. Her art navigates the boundaries between technology and domesticity in regards to weaving’s history.

The first Jacquard loom was invented in 1804 by Joseph Marie Jacquard. Although looms were already in use at the time, they required a second person sitting on top of the loom called “le tireur” to pull up the threads. Jacquard invented a “head” for the loom, so that this extra person was not needed. The Jacquard loom was controlled by a chain of punched cards, laced together in a continuous sequencea technique that inspired the hardware used by early computer programming.

But in a television program about the top 100 innovations of humankind she watched recently, Moisan said that the loom was not acknowledged. “If it’s not one of the most important innovations,” Moisan tells me with a laugh, “what is it?”

Two examples of the structures that are fed into the Jacquard loom, used with the permission of Geneviève Moisan.

The Jacquard loom, located in the Textiles and Materiality Cluster, weaves based on black and white pixelated images that are fed through the software used by the cluster called Pointcarré. Much like binary code, these images work to raise or lower the heddles. But the loom is also a complex machine. Images can change based on their different materials and new threads or different warps and densities on the loom can completely alter a technique. It took Moisan over 100 hours to learn the software and over 5 years of using the loom to develop her current skill level, but this development of her craft is also an important part of her work.

Moisan’s art weaves together this history of the loom with modern concerns, both conceptually and in practice. For example, her MFA thesis project explores moments of waiting. These brocade pieces draw on the tradition of 19th-century French textiles that depicted small, woven romantic scenes. But her own work is concerned with a modern world and fast-paced world where “we still wait everywhere.” The project asks the question, “where and who are we when we’re waiting?”

“After in the Kitchen” by Geneviève Moisan, used with permission of the artist.

Similarly, Moisan’s We Have too Many Friends depict woven scènes de genre (portraits of everyday life) based on intimate images downloaded from free sharing websites. In one picture, a man is passed out drunk on a floor covered in bottles. In another, a person is curled up on top of a toilet. The project explores the boundaries between public and private, spaces and non-spaces, as well as the many layers of screens we wade through in order to navigate reality. In We Have too Many Friends Moisan chooses to represent images of people as opposed to their physical bodies. Similarly, her photography work in the past has focused on representing the world through a series of blurry fiberglass and resin screens.

Despite addressing modern concerns, Moisan’s work is also embedded in a long history of weaving and making. Her interactive woven representation of Angry Birds differs from her other works in that it brings a digital game outside of its screen and into the space in front of us. Viewers can interact with the piece by throwing velcro balls at the image, forcing the game out of its independent screen and into a communal space.

Moisan’s woven representation of Angry Birds is currently
displayed in
Concordia’s Technoculture, Arts, and Games (TAG) Research Centre.

But Moisan seems to always be drawn to moments of community and communication. Although she does not always work with others, she tells me that she misses the community of women she used to quilt with, who would use their time together as a way to socialize.

There is a long history of storytelling and communication in weaving and embroidery, within communities as well as stitched into fabric. Chilean Arpilleras, for example, were used to record a history of violence. Although Moisan’s work comes from a different place than the artists behind these works, she is interested in and inspired by these forms of communication through textiles.

“There are so many words to explain things,” she tells me near the end of our interview, “but I like when people just react to, just look at [my art].” She values their emotional responses and letting her works speak for themselves. Much like the loom, she feeds her ideas into the machine and works through them to create complex and interwoven conversations, to visualize in a poetic and also very material way moments such as waiting on a bench.

Across the table from me, she weaves her fingers together as if to show just how easy it is to intertwine the things we perceive as binary oppositesand how strong they become when they are brought together.

Eileen Mary Holowka is a Milieux member and head of Pause Button. She works as a writer, editor, researcher in Montreal and is currently finishing her MA at Concordia University in English and Creative Writing. Her most recent project is an interactive narrative video game about the act of narrating sexual trauma within institutional spaces. Her current research focuses on self-imaging, Instagram, online affective labour, and the intersections of media and trauma.

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